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The response to incentives and contractual efficiency: Evidence from a field experiment

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  • Paarsch, Harry J.
  • Shearer, Bruce S.

Abstract

We use data from a field experiment to estimate worker reaction to incentives and the optimality of piece-rate contracts. Our estimate of the elasticity of output with respect to piece rates is 0.39. Regression methods cannot predict performance under hypothetical contracts. Therefore, we apply structural econometric methods (without imposing profit maximization) to evaluate observed-contract optimality. Using profit as a metric, we estimate the distance between observed and profit-maximizing contracts to be negligible. This suggests that observed contracts closely approximate optimal contracts under asymmetric information about worker ability. Under complete information, the firm could increase expected profits by 14 percent keeping workers indifferent to the observed piece-rate contract. Profits could increase between 44 and 49 percent if the firm exploited information about ability to reduce worker utility to the outside alternative.

Suggested Citation

  • Paarsch, Harry J. & Shearer, Bruce S., 2009. "The response to incentives and contractual efficiency: Evidence from a field experiment," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 53(5), pages 481-494, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:eecrev:v:53:y:2009:i:5:p:481-494
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Bellemare, Charles & Shearer, Bruce, 2010. "Sorting, incentives and risk preferences: Evidence from a field experiment," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 108(3), pages 345-348, September.
    2. Paarsch, Harry J & Shearer, Bruce, 2000. "Piece Rates, Fixed Wages, and Incentive Effects: Statistical Evidence from Payroll Records," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 41(1), pages 59-92, February.
    3. Christensen, Bent Jesper & Kiefer, Nicholas M, 1994. "Measurement Error in the Prototypal Job-Search Model," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 12(4), pages 618-639, October.
    4. Paarsch, Harry J. & Shearer, Bruce S., 2009. "The response to incentives and contractual efficiency: Evidence from a field experiment," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 53(5), pages 481-494, July.
    5. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1991. "Symposium on Organizations and Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(2), pages 15-24, Spring.
    6. Canice Prendergast, 1999. "The Provision of Incentives in Firms," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(1), pages 7-63, March.
    7. Craig, Ben & Pencavel, John, 1992. "The Behavior of Worker Cooperatives: The Plywood Companies of the Pacific Northwest," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(5), pages 1083-1105, December.
    8. Adam Copeland & Cyril Monnet, 2009. "The Welfare Effects of Incentive Schemes," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(1), pages 93-113.
    9. Christopher Ferrall & Bruce Shearer, 1999. "Incentives and Transactions Costs Within the Firm: Estimating an Agency Model Using Payroll Records," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 66(2), pages 309-338.
    10. Edward P. Lazear, 2000. "Performance Pay and Productivity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(5), pages 1346-1361, December.
    11. Baker, George P, 1992. "Incentive Contracts and Performance Measurement," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(3), pages 598-614, June.
    12. Harry J. Paarsch & Bruce S. Shearer, 1999. "The Response of Worker Effort to Piece Rates: Evidence from the British Columbia Tree-Planting Industry," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 34(4), pages 643-667.
    13. Bruce Shearer, 2004. "Piece Rates, Fixed Wages and Incentives: Evidence from a Field Experiment," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 71(2), pages 513-534.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Mirco Tonin & Michael Vlassopoulos, 2012. "Social Incentives Matter: Evidence from an Online Real Effort Experiment," CEU Working Papers 2012_12, Department of Economics, Central European University, revised 20 Jul 2012.
    2. Fortin, Bernard & Jacquemet, Nicolas & Shearer, Bruce, 2010. "Labour Supply, Work Effort and Contract Choice: Theory and Evidence on Physicians," CLSSRN working papers clsrn_admin-2010-30, Vancouver School of Economics, revised 21 Oct 2010.
    3. Charles Bellemare & Bruce Shearer, 2011. "On The Relevance And Composition Of Gifts Within The Firm: Evidence From Field Experiments," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 52(3), pages 855-882, August.
    4. Shchetinin, Oleg, 2009. "Contracting Under Reciprocal Altruism," MPRA Paper 13457, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Paarsch, Harry J. & Shearer, Bruce S., 2009. "The response to incentives and contractual efficiency: Evidence from a field experiment," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 53(5), pages 481-494, July.
    6. Hideo Owan & Shingo Takahashi & Tsuyoshi Tsuru & Katsuhito Uehara, 2014. "Finding good managers: an econometric case study of a large Japanese auto dealership," Working Papers EMS_2014_08, Research Institute, International University of Japan.
    7. repec:eee:gamebe:v:107:y:2018:i:c:p:182-202 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Sen Wang & Tim Bogle & G. Cornelis van Kooten, 2012. "Forestry and the New Institutional Economics," Working Papers 2012-05, University of Victoria, Department of Economics, Resource Economics and Policy Analysis Research Group.
    9. Bose, Arup & Pal, Debashis & Sappington, David E.M., 2010. "On the design of piece-rate contracts," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 107(3), pages 330-332, June.
    10. Wang, Sen & Bogle, Tim & van Kooten, G. Cornelis, 2012. "Forestry and the New Institutional Economics," Working Papers 130818, University of Victoria, Resource Economics and Policy.
    11. Cardella, Eric & Depew, Briggs, 2016. "Testing for the Ratchet Effect: Evidence from a Real-Effort Work Task," IZA Discussion Papers 9981, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Piece rates Incentives Contractual efficiency Field experiments;

    JEL classification:

    • J33 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Compensation Packages; Payment Methods
    • J41 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Labor Contracts
    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments

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